As far as I'm concerned, poutine—the Canadian master-creation of brown gravy- and cheese curd-topped fries—are unimpeachable. But I'll admit that it's not necessarily the best finger food for a party, unless you like the idea of dozens of gravy-coated fingers being wiped on the couch. To solve that, I decided to come up with a more neat, bite-size way of delivering those same flavors.
And just like that, Poutine Poppers were born.
Imagine this: all the ingredients of poutine, reconfigured into tiny little tater-tot-size bites. I do it by stuffing the cheese curds into mashed baked potato, and then fry them, croquette-like, into golden little orbs. I then serve the gravy on the side as a dipping sauce. It gives me goosebumps just thinking about it.
Now I'll walk you through the basic steps a little more closely.
I start by scooping out the flesh of baked potatoes and mixing it with some flour, salt, and pepper.* Then, I shape that potato mixture into small cylinders and, one at a time, press them down into my palm. I set a cheese curd (or two if they're small) on top and press down gently, then I close my fingers, molding the potato around so that no cheese curd is poking through. Now I have the cylindrical, tater-tot shape I'm looking for.
*Here's an entertaining tip: Use the leftover potato skins to make fully-loaded potato skins, another party-food favorite! Double the appetizers, double the fun; you just can't argue with that logic.
The hardest part is done, and it's really not hard at all! Once I've shaped all of the poppers, I set them aside to whip up a quick and easy gravy.
We don't normally call for bouillon cubes here at Serious Eats, but in this case they're what I use. To me, poutine is, at its heart, fast food, and the flavor of a bouillon-based brown gravy is as intrinsic to the dish as cheese singles on a fast food burger—not objectively high-quality ingredients, but still good in some applications. That said, if you prefer to use actual stock, I recommend Kenji's brown gravy, which uses chicken stock with soy sauce and marmite (we don't recommend store-bought beef broth, which is almost always of poor quality).
In my version, I start with a simple butter-and-flour roux, whisking in the bouillon broth and bringing it to a simmer until thickened. Be sure to scrape the bottom while stirring to prevent any gravy from burning.
Just before serving, I drop the poppers into hot oil and fry them until golden. I only fry four or five poppers at a time, since any more can crowd the fryer and lower the temperature of the oil. If the temperature gets too low, the poppers not only take longer to cook, but are more prone to breaking and the cheese oozing out.
Then they're ready to serve with the gravy on the side. I recommend spearing them for easier dipping.
Simple as that!